Thursday, August 19, 2010


It has only been in the last 194 years that women have been able to hear their baby's heartbeat, and only in the last 52 years have women been able to see their unborn child on a screen. (The stethoscope was invented in 1816 and ultrasound technology was approved for screening pregnant women in 1957.) But all women of all time -- Eve, Sarah, Hannah, Mary, Catherine the Great, Lucille Ball, my mom, your mom, and so on -- have been able to feel their babies move inside them. Perhaps for that reason alone, the little nudges and movements I've felt in these last few weeks have been the most amazing experience of my pregnancy thus far.
Three weeks ago I was sitting on my couch next to Pete when I felt an unfamiliar pang in my stomach. "I think the baby just moved!" I said, and then I held very still. "I felt it again!" I said, and Pete paused our movie.
"Sweet!" he said. "I felt it a few days ago when I hugged you, though, so it's not the first time."
"For the last time, you did not feel the baby move," I said. "It is impossible for you to feel it before I do."
"Why? I told you you were pregnant before you knew."
"I know, and you don't get to take this one away from me," I pouted. "I get to feel it first. Next thing I know you'll be in labor before I am."
"No thanks." He visibly quivered at the idea. "So what does it feel like?"
I sat very still again and waited until I felt it. "It feels... not like I thought it would. One of my books said it would feel like bursting bubbles or 'darting minnows,' and my midwife said it would feel like a faint nudge of a fingertip. This feels like... actually, it kind of hurts."
It was gas. You would think I would know what gas feels like, but I'm a lady, so I don't really get gas. Pete, if you're reading this, shut up.
A few days later, it was unmistakable -- a gentle little flop and then a tap on something deep inside me. I giggled and pressed on my stomach; I called Pete over to see if he could feel it, which he couldn't. (It looks like he won't be laboring for me, after all.) For the next two weeks I announced every time I felt the baby moving -- about three or four times a day -- and then I grabbed Pete's hand and pressed it on my tummy.
"Feel that?" I'd ask. He would shake his head. "How about that?" No. "You had to feel that one, come one." Uh uh. Once he said, "Well, I feel something... really faint... wait, nope, that's my heartbeat pulsating in my fingers." I made him pause computer games and flight simulators to feel my stomach. I woke him up from a nap once, which was a bad idea.
Last night we were drifting asleep when I felt the baby and knew -- just knew -- that it was strong enough for Pete to feel. He was nearly asleep and I didn't want to wake him up, but I had to. "Pete? Pete, wake up, I know you could feel this." He mumbled something and I took his hand, pressed it against my stomach, and waited. The baby jumped and Pete's eyes flew open. "I felt it! Wow, that was a big one!" He waited a little more and felt another kick. It was a milestone, a triumph, and even though he was probably too sleepy to remember it, I always will.
In her book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, Sarah Buckley references a study on maternal bonding with unborn babies. The study concluded that women who have ultrasounds report higher levels of bonding with their unborn child compared to women who do not have ultrasounds, but only before they feel movement. After quickening, technology makes no difference in how bonded a woman feels towards her baby. Even though I'm looking forward to my 21 week ultrasound tomorrow, and even though I have a recording of my baby's heartbeat set as my ring tone, I treasure these movements as the most pure connection that I have with the life inside of me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Are you going to find out?"

Until I got pregnant, I wasn't aware that all pregnant couples belong to one of two camps: The Waiters and the Finder-Outers. The lines are clearly drawn, and while both sides are prepared with a mini pitch, the Waiters will always win on account of passion.

"DON'T DOOOOOOO IT," they wail, as if they just found you on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"But there are so few surprises in life," they implore sadly.

"The not knowing really strengthens you in those last few pushes," mothers reason. Then they add with a loud whisper, "And you get better stuff at the shower if your guests don't know what you're having."

But my all time favorite response came courtesy of our friend Mike. No one else ever put it quite this way, although the sentiment underscores the entire Waiters' case. "You'll ruin it," he said. "You'll just ruin it."

By the sly look on his face when he said it, he obviously knew that it would get to my head. Will I ruin it if I find out? I wondered. Would the knowledge of this baby's gender remove all of the mystery of life, leaving me with a dim, mundane existence? Would my shower guests buy me enough 0-3 month dresses for a flock of baby girls, but no thermometer? Was I going to run out of steam during labor, throw up my arms and say, "Well, I know it's a boy. No sense in pushing it out now," and then die in labor with my baby boy (as expected) stuck in the birth canal? My death would be (regrettably) no surprise to the Waiters, who had predicted this scenario, and they would talk about it the way you might discuss the death of a drunk race car driver. She found out, they would murmur to one another at my wake, their voices full of pity and condemnation.

Well, probably not.

My camp of Finder Outers isn't very passionate, and we're unified only by our impatience or our nerdy urge to "plan ahead" with appropriate colors. But, on behalf of all the peeking parents out there, I would like to offer my response.

First: Which surprise-filled reality are we comparing this this one to that deems life lacking in surprises? I for one am surprised on a daily basis. Sometimes Pete walks up behind me without my knowing and touches my shoulder and I spit my water all over the keyboard while falling out of my chair. Just today a dog ran into the street and I almost got in an accident. Occasionally I get a call from Family Video and am surprised to remember that I never returned that movie that we never watched, resulting in over $15 of fines. Some mornings I wake up with an enormous pimple that I didn't even feel coming.

Okay, so those are all bad surprises, but I'm sure there are plenty of good ones, too.

Second: Finding out doesn't take away the surprise, it just shifts the surprise to a different point in time. I can see why it would be fun to find out at the moment of birth, but personally I like the idea of spreading out the fun. We're going to have the ultrasound tech put the "results" in a sealed envelope, then we're driving to a family reunion and opening the envelope over dinner. This should provide at least twenty minutes of excitement, followed by months of anticipation and calls from my mother-in-law saying, "I saw an infant train conductor outfit today and couldn't resist!" At birth you have the excitement over the gender mixed in with the exhaustion and the rush of birth, followed by months of green and yellow onsies.

But ultimately, it's up to each person or each couple, and I say more power to the Waiters. I for one can hardly wait the 15 remaining days until my ultrasound. I think I'll set the envelope on the dashboard and stare at it during the entire drive to Wisconsin, just to tantalize myself with the surprise.

(I forgot to mention a third camp of couples: The Finder-Outers-Who-Make-Everyone-Else-Wait. Though they may have pure intentions, this group always comes off a little smug. Their mantra is, "We just want to keep something for ourselves." I never really know how to respond to that. Is an apology in order? "I'm so sorry that we the people have taken away so much from your pregnancy. I'm glad you are reserving some of it just for yourself." (?) Please, if you are going to find out but not tell anyone, don't tell people that you are finding out but not telling them.Find an appropriate way to dodge the question, and dodge it, lest I buy you lots of toys and stuffed animals that aren't on your registry just to make you angry.)